MATCH REPORT: April 22, 2017 v. Cleveland Crusaders D3
The conclusion of the 2016 – 2017 league schedule could have been an important game if not for the Highlanders win last week in Cleveland. The Crusaders played great all season and always seemed to hang around the Highlanders (11-0) with their own impressive 9-2 record. However, with the Highlanders win against the Rovers the week previous created a 9 league point difference that could not be made up in the final game remaining, therefore eliminating the playoff implications from this match.
The Highlanders struggled to decide whether to rest some key starters before the playoffs or to continue the momentum they’ve built up over the course of the season. They also had several key and dedicated players to consider who’ve been around all year, but only enjoyed limited starts or time of the bench. At the end of the day, the Highlanders decided to play an A side mix of both veterans and younger players against an excellent Crusaders D3 squad.
The weather was cool and overcast. The Highlanders kicked off to the Crusaders and were quickly able to gain some possession deep in Crusader territory. After several minutes, the Crusaders were awarded a lineout near their own 10 meter line. After winning the lineout and dealing with pressure from the Highlanders, the Crusader scrumhalf made a hasty pass to his backline for a clearing kick. The pass was intercepted however by a charging Rennie who was easily able to take just a few steps and touch the ball down for his tenth try of the season. Scott Powers (UPJ), playing scrumhalf today in place of the resting Zach Powell (Cal U) was able to make the conversion and the Highlanders were out to a quick 7 – 0 lead.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Highlanders were once again able to grab possession and get the ball brilliantly out to their talented young wing, Michael Zapf. Zapf easily made up for an earlier knock that would have likely turned into a score by flying through the Crusader defense and into the corner for his first try of the day. Powers was unable to convert the tough corner kick, but the Highlanders extended their lead. A few moments later, lock Brandon Benvenuti was able to power through the defense for his team leading 11th try of the season near the same corner where Zapf scored a few minutes earlier. This time Powers was able to convert the corner kick and the lead was extended to 19.
After the try, Thanner Hestdalen (SUNY Cortland) went down with an apparent ACL injury just after the 20 minute mark. The injury was unfortunate for Thanner who’d been working hard to return to the Highlanders from injuries in the spring of 2015. Thanner had been playing brilliantly at flyhalf and was a key depth player for the Highlanders for the upcoming playoff run. His injury, however, ended his season and brought in normal starting fly and club captain Tyree Massie (Cal U) off the bench. Forwards captain Sammy Zimmerman (IUP) was able to make a great play to continue the scoring for the Highlanders after taking a pick ‘n go near the try line and powering through the Cleveland defense. It was Sammy’s first score of the season and was easily converted by Powers. Finally, before the half, Zapf was able to touch down his second try of the day to give the Highlanders a 31 – 0 lead at the half.
The Highlanders used the lead to bring in two new wings, Mike Walton (Cal U) and Jack Haney (IUP), both of whom are excellent defenders. The club also gave veteran prop Abe Cone (Cal U) a rest while getting powerful young forward Rob Gregg some work in the second half. After the kickoff, the Highlanders missed an opportunity to score when Rennie ran out of the back of the try zone, missing his second try of the day. The possession switched over to the Crusaders who utilized penalty kicks to get the ball deep into Highlander territory and eventually a score. During their charge down the field, Jeff Muha who made his first start since the spring of 2016, came off the field for Nick Eritz (Cal U) and veteran forward Andrew Chapman was able to get on after the unconverted Crusader score.
The Highlanders would give up no further points, however. While getting forwards John Shearer (Cal U) and Jon Fazekas (W&J) so needed work in the pack, they were able to get additional tries from Neil Reynolds (UPJ), Devin Zangaro (IUP) and finally Mike Walton, scoring his first try in senior rugby. Powers was able to convert all of the tries in the second half and even prop Brendan Crifaci was able to get in the scoring act by converting the final try from Walton at the 80 minute mark. At the final whistle, the Highlanders dominated the Crusaders to a final score of 52 – 5 to clinch the undefeated season.
With the win, the Highlanders improved to 12 – 0, a perfect season earning bonus points in each game. They will enter the Midwest Playoffs as the number 2 seed in the east and travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Crusaders dropped to 9-3, second place in the division.
First XV: 1 – Crifaci, 2 – Muha, 3 – Ab. Cone, 4 – Benvenuti, 5 – Wingert, 6 – Reaghard, 7 – Zimmerman, 8 – Rennie, 9 – Powers, 10 – Hestdalen, 11 – Hoellman, 12 – Reynolds, 13 – Dobbins, 14 – Zapf, 15 – Zangaro
Reserves: 16 – R. Gregg, 17 – Ertiz, 18 – Fazekas, 19 – Shearer, 20 – Massie, 21 – Haney, 22 – Walton, 23 – A. Chapman
Substitutions: 40’ – R. Gregg for Ab. Cone (TC), Haney for Hoellman (TC), Walton for Zapf (TC); 53’ – Ertiz for Muha (IJ); 56’ – A. Chapman for Zimmerman (TC); 60’ – Shearer for Rennie (IJ), Fazekas for Wingert (TC)
Referee: David Kuhn (ARURS)
Tries: Benvenuti (11), Rennie (10), Reynolds (8), Walton (1), Zangaro (9), Zapf (3,4), Zimmerman (1)
Conversions: Crifaci, (1/1), Powers (5/7)
Man of the Match: Scott Powers, Scrumhalf (1)